'Compleat' your escape at inn named for Izaak Walton Retreat: Built for railroad crews, homey Montana hideaway offers winter and summer activities. The specialties are cross-country skiing and, of course, fishing.

July 21, 1996|By Kathryn Straach | Kathryn Straach,DALLAS MORNING NEWS

Stroll through the homey lobby of the Izaak Walton Inn, with its knotty-pine walls and ceiling, huge stone fireplace and Montana-made furniture. Drink in its soothing scenery and its friendly people.

Now here's a Montana hideaway where you could really hunker down.

And many people do.

The Izaak Walton Inn, in Essex, attracts a mix of train buffs, cross-country skiers, fishermen, hikers, mountain bikers, nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts and families.

The three-story lodge, bordering Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall and Great Bear wildernesses in northwest Montana, was built in 1939 for the crews who serviced the Great Northern Railway. It also was intended to serve as an entrance to Glacier Park between East Glacier and West Glacier, though that plan never materialized.

The area's railroad history lives on at the Izaak Walton, which earned its place in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. A major renovation was completed in spring 1995, when private baths were added to each of the 33 rooms. Plans are under way to add a hot tub, a skating rink and a pavilion.

Spikes in bathrooms

Despite the changes, it's not hard to recognize the train theme -- with the caboose lights, railroad spikes for toilet-paper holders and railroad ties for coat trees.

Fifty feet out the front door are tracks where Amtrak and Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains regularly pass.

Rail die-hards can even sleep in a train. There are four private cabooses. Each accommodates four people and has its own cooking and bathroom facilities.

If you come in winter, be prepared to give the skinny skis a try. In 1992, Snow Country magazine named the Izaak Walton Inn one of the top 10 cross-country ski resorts in the Rockies. The inn maintains 30 kilometers of groomed, cross-country trails. It also has a rental shop and a teacher.

Snowshoeing also is a popular option.

If you go in summer, you can hike, mountain bike, raft, look for the abundant wildlife or drive the nearby Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 52-mile, white-knuckled trek over the spine of the Rockies in Glacier National Park.

Of course, you can always fish. After all, Izaak Walton has been the patron saint of fishermen for 400 years. Born in Stafford, England, he wrote "The Compleat Angler," which has been printed in more than 300 editions.

Easy to relax

But if you're not into any of the outdoorsy activities, that's OK. The Izaak Walton Inn is simply the ultimate stress buster.

It's about 50 miles from Whitefish, the nearest town of any size.

There are no televisions, no phones, no radios. All you have is each other. Guests linger over coffee after breakfast. They swing on the front porch. They curl up in a chair in the lobby and read.

And when guests get hungry, they flock to the Dining Car Restaurant.

Entertainment of some sort is planned every evening.

The night we were there, guests watched a spectacular slide show of Glacier National Park shot by one of the employees. When the show ended, it was time for the train to arrive, bringing new guests.

The old guests went out on the porch and waved at the arrivals. Soon, they too would be a part of the Izaak Walton family.

For more information: Izaak Walton Inn, P.O. Box 653, Essex, Mont. 59916; (406) 888-5700.

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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